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I saw a post on Mashable about Everloop and decided to check it out.  The site is intended for students ages 8-13 but your 14-15 year olds and children under 8 can use the site as well, provided they comply to the terms of service.  I decided to register as a student to see what the process looks like.  And that’s where things started to get weird.

When a child registers, they choose a name and input their birthdate and a parent’s email.  Of course, I entered in my own email address and clicked continue.  With that, I was able to get into the site and begin establishing myself.  Communication is disabled though, until the parent confirms the email address and registers.  After checking my email and clicking on the link, I was asked to register as the parent.  I loved that I was able to see what information my ‘child’ provided and even make changes (if they lied about their age for example).  It’s the next step that began to trouble me.  After putting in my name and basic info, I was asked to put in my billing information.  Huh?  This is a free site.  Why should I enter in my billing information?  Well, it turns out they have a virtual economy, which can be bought into with US dollars.  No worries there, but there’s also a second reason. In order to confirm that you really are an adult, you have two choices: Pay them $1 via credit card or put in the last four digits of your social security number.  This gave me pause.  To be honest, I think this step right there is going to be a stumbling block for many parents.  Would you want to put in your credit card information for a site that your child will be using?  Or your social, even if it is just the last four?

And right there lies a big part of the problem with alts like Everloop.  Why do you join a social network?  Some people may join just to explore, but most join because their friends, family and colleagues are there.  The same thing goes for students.  They might join a site like if their teachers are using it, or for a class project…  but otherwise they’re going to go where their friends are.  And that’s Facebook.  And Twitter.  And YouTube.

Believe me, I’m all for alts.  In many schools, sites like Facebook are blocked.  And it’s important for us to be teaching about social networking, both from a safety perspective as well as a ‘setting our students up to succeed’ perspective.  But there’s little impetus for a student to jump into a moderated community that their friends aren’t on, even more so if their parents need to jump through a good number of hoops to get signed up.

It’s discouraging.  I’m a fan of alternatives to social sites, but for the most part, I think they’re always going to be relegated to niche communities.  The lure of the major players is just too strong to pretend that students won’t still flock to them.